In recent weeks the United States has sent the USS Abraham Lincoln, B-52 bombers, a Patriot missile interceptor battery and more naval firepower into the Persian Gulf in an escalation of military threats against Iran.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced in May that the Pentagon had plans to send 120,000 troops in the event that Iran attacked American forces in the Middle East, or if Iran resumed work that could lead to nuclear weapons.
In April, US President Donald Trump’s administration designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, part of Iran’s armed forces, as a “terrorist group”.
The US claimed it had secret intelligence that Iran was planning to attack its forces occupying parts of the Middle East, and that Iran might be behind minor damage to Saudi oil tankers. Such charges should be put in the same category as (then secretary of state) Colin Powell’s solemn declaration to the United Nations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
It seemed that war against Iran was imminent. But Trump has since announced he does not want war with Iran, although still holding out the possibility.
The New York Times, quoting anonymous sources, said there was disagreement in the administration over Iran. National Security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are taking a hawkish stand while others are more cautious.
The context is Washington’s drive to economically crush Iran, using further sanctions against its oil exports to force “regime change” — just as it is doing with Venezuela.
History of US meddling
To understand how we have reached this point, we should look at US-Iran relations since the Second World War.
In 1951, after the assassination of the British-supported Prime Minister Ali Razamara, Dr Mohammand Mosaddegh was elected prime minister by a parliamentary vote that was then ratified by the Shah (King) Reza Pahlavi.
Mosaddegh became enormously popular when he nationalised the British-owned petroleum industry and reserves. In response, the British government, headed by Winston Churchill, embargoed Iranian oil and enlisted Washington to depose him. In 1953 US President Eisenhower authorised Operation Ajax, which successfully overthrew Mosaddegh’s government.
The coup was the first time the US openly overthrew an elected, civilian government — but not the last.
A few months later the coup regime, now directly headed by the Shah, brought the British oil industry back in under a new agreement.
The Shah installed an extremely oppressive dictatorship, under the tutelage of the US. It was characterised by unbridled brutality, torture and murder. The hated political police, SAVAK, was organised by the CIA and Israeli intelligence (Shin Bet). Tens of thousands of US troops came to Iran in the subsequent years to train the army and the Shah’s elite Royal Guard.
The jackboots of the United States were everywhere. The US embassy grew to a full city block, and was the final seat of authority. Iran became a bastion for Washington in the Middle East along with the garrison state of Israel. The Shah maintained close relations with the Zionist regime, in an alliance against the Arab states and the Palestinian people.
Bordering the former USSR, Iran also became a high-tech listening post for US monitoring of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
All this was overthrown by the 1979 Iranian revolution. Washington has been hostile to Iran and has sought to re-install a US-dominated government there ever since.
The Shah launched his “white revolution” to “modernise” agriculture in 1963, establishing large capitalist farms with the latest technology (including pesticides and chemical fertilisers). Leaving aside what we now know about the harmful ecological effects, this drove millions of traditional peasant farmers off the land and into the slums around the big cities, as has happened elsewhere in the developing world.
It was in these slums in southern Tehran that the revolution began in the summer and fall of 1977. Demonstrations were held demanding that the government provide electricity, running water, sewerage, health centers, decent housing and transportation. Their pleas fell on deaf ears, however, and the inhabitants resorted to tapping into electricity and water supplies. The Shah sent in demolition teams with bulldozers against the makeshift shelters, and paramilitary soldiers.
The people fought back with shovels, clubs and stones. Government cars were set on fire. Some agents were killed. The Shah backed off, but the upsurge spread into what would become a movement so powerful it would overthrow the Shah in less than two years.
Demonstrations grew larger and larger in 1978, until in September, three to four million people took to the streets. The Shah responded with martial law.
The repression was fierce, but the demonstrations continued to grow. In October, a bank workers’ strike mushroomed into a general strike across the country that lasted until the revolution. A number of oppressed nationalities in Iran also entered the fray, with their own demands.
The Shah fled the country on January 16, 1979, after appointing a rump government. Among those who came back to Iran from exile were socialist groups.
I went to Iran soon after, along with another comrade, to work with two of these groups. We were there in February when an insurrection began among mechanics at a Tehran air force base. It quickly spread throughout the city and the country as the people raided army bases for arms. The old regime was overthrown.
We were swept up in the great movement of the people in the streets. It was my first insurrection.
While the revolution was won by the masses of workers and peasants, the socialist and communist organisations were too small, or politically unable in some cases, to provide the leadership needed to deepen the revolution. The Shia Islamic clergy stepped into the vacuum, and took leadership.
The Shah was able to obliterate almost any opposition, but he was not able to outlaw the clergy. A leading ayatollah, Ruholla Khomeini, who supported an unsuccessful uprising against the Shah in 1963, had been arrested and driven into exile in Paris. Khomeini maintained contact with the clergy in Iran, denouncing the regime and its American backers on taped speeches smuggled into the country. He developed his idea for an end to the monarchy and the establishment of an Islamic Republic and he polemicised against Marxism.
Once Khomeini took over leadership of the revolution, he would not further the aspirations of the workers, peasants and oppressed minorities. But the uprising had stirred these forces into action, and it would take some time for his regime to tame them.
Following struggles in the leadership and between the new government and the people, the result was the establishment of a brutally repressive regime.
Washington first imposed sanctions on Iran in 1979, and soon followed with attempts to overthrow the revolution.
In 1980, a US-backed coup attempt ended in failure. Later that year, Iraq under Saddam Hussein launched a full scale invasion of Iran at Washington’s behest.
The US thought that with the Iranian army weakened by the insurrection, Iraq would easily win. But that was not the case. The Iranian people made great sacrifices in the eight-year war that eventually beat back the Iraqi invasion. A million people were killed.
The war became an excuse for the Iranian regime to increase repression. The fact that the Kremlin had backed Iraq was used to smash the left. Five thousand communists and socialists were executed and more imprisoned. All vestiges of the democratic aspects of the 1979 uprising, and the aspirations of workers, peasants and oppressed nationalities were crushed by 1983.
One aspect of Iran’s revolution that still remains today is its independence from the US, which is why Washington still considers Iran its enemy.
Iran recovered after the war with Iraq and extended its influence in the region. This resulted in further US sanctions.
It made advances in education, the sciences and other fields, including its nuclear capacity. As a result, the US imposed more sanctions. Iran scaled back its nuclear capability under the 2016 Iran nuclear treaty and those sanctions were lifted, providing some economic relief.
Western firms and banks were still forced to abide by earlier sanctions, however, and the Iranian people are still hurting as a result.
When Trump pulled out of the nuclear treaty and re-imposed sanctions, the economic situation in Iran further deteriorated. Now Trump is imposing new sanctions designed to completely shut down Iran’s oil exports.
The other countries that signed the treaty with Iran – Britain, Russia, France, Germany and China, and the European Union — have tried to keep the deal going.
Iran has recently warned these countries that if it does not receive economic relief promised by them within two months, it would renew its nuclear program. However the businesses and banks in these countries would have to break the US sanctions to do this. The Europeans are unlikely to because they would also be subject to US sanctions.
The present situation is tense, and the US is threatening military action if Iran renews its nuclear program.
A full blown US war against Iran would be far more disastrous than the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and seems unlikely. However, a US military strike is not out of the question, and could lead to wider war, in the region and indeed the world.
End the Sanctions! Make Peace with Iran! No War!